NIHL Playoffs Raiders 4 Bracknell Bees 2 (10-7 on agg)
Raiders completed home-and-away wins over Bracknell in front of a packed Romford crowd to book their place in the semi-finals of the National League play-offs.
Having claimed a 6-5 victory in Berkshire on Saturday, the boys in gold and blue completed the task back on their own ice to set up a meeting with regular season champions Basingstoke.
Raiders had the first sight of goal as Olegs Lascenko found Marek Nahlik on the left and his slapshot forced a blocker save from Alex Mettam.
And there was a brief moment of panic for the Bees goalie later on the same shift as he spilled Nahlik’s wristshot, but saw a defenceman clear the loose puck.
Jan Bendik called Michael Gray into action for the first time at the other end, with his drive turned aside, before Nahlik diverted Sean Barry’s snapshot into Mettam’s pads.
JJ Pitchley circled in from the left boards and tested Mettam’s blocker, before Raiders went on the power play as Danny Ingoldsby was called for boarding on Andy Munroe.
Mettam denied Jake Sylvester and Matt Turner with a superb double save and just as the penalty expired, Bees had George Norcliffe called for charging Munroe in front of their bench.
Juraj Huska shot just wide from the low slot and saw Mettam save another effort as Bees successfully killed off the penalty.
And Ollie Baldock was the next Raider to test the Bees goalie, who threw out a glove to turn aside Sylvester’s angled attempt.
Gray was back in the game to pluck Bendik’s big blast from the blue line out of the air, but Lascenko’s low wrist shot from the right face-off circle was kicked out by Mettam, before Callum Best’s close-range backhand shot was blocked by Gray.
But Bees saw Martin force a good blocker save from Gray late in the first period and Best appeared to ring pipework, before Sylvester was thwarted by Mettam.
Huska was then grabbed by Scott Spearing behind the play, with both players given roughing minors, and John Connolly’s soft dumping of the puck towards goal during the 4-on-4 almost caught Mettam out, as he gave up an unexpected rebound.
Despite being outshot 16-4, Bees went into the first break on level terms thanks to Mettam, but the middle period was only nine seconds old when a mistake proved costly.
Connolly dumped the puck towards the Bracknell net from the blue line and Mettam misjudged the bounce as it came back off the end boards for Turner to tap in from close range, with just nine seconds on the clock.
Gray almost gifted Bracknell a chance when coming out of his net to play the puck soon after, but made a good blocker save on Carl Thompson, before Julian Smith was called for interference.
And Bees made their power play count as Best’s shot from the right circle was spilled by Gray and James Galazzi poked the loose puck over the line from point blank range.
Baldock produced a spurt of pace to dash up ice and fire a shot into the chest of Mettam, with Bracknell’s defence clearing the rebound, before Brandon Ayliffe raced onto a long pass and forced a pad save, then sent another great chance wide.
Shaun Thompson put a good chance wide from Best’s pass out of the corner, while Nahlik fizzed a wristshot past the far post at the other end as play swung from end to end.
And Mettam made a reflex glove save to somehow keep out Sylvester’s one-timer, before Norcliffe arrowed a shot into Gray’s catcher.
The tie was on a knife edge as it passed the midway point, with Munroe’s shot through a crowd creating some panic that led to a penalty against Pitchley for interference.
And Bees took the lead on the night to tie the aggregate score on the power play as Bendik’s shot from the left dropped for Martin to tap in from a foot or so.
Sylvester and Baldock went close for Raiders on the next shift, but Best forced a blocker save from Gray before Nahlik’s shot on the turn after good work by Lascenko was smothered by Mettam.
But Raiders were back on terms with just over two minutes remaining as Sylvester found the net from a tight angle on the right, with the hosts then going on the power play when Bracknell were given a bench minor for having too many men on the ice and Harvey Stead picked up a 10-minute misconduct penalty for good measure.
A mistake by Connolly almost handed Martin and Thompson a chance, but he redeemed himself with a timely block in front of Gray, as nerves jangled briefly in the packed stands.
There was some tension in the air as the final period began, with Baldock’s shot held by Mettam as the bench minor penalty expired, before the Bees goalie also gloved a shot from Lascenko and held Ayliffe’s wristshot from the left wing.
Bees rallied with Tom Avery testing Gray from the point, before Bendik’s follow-up was deflected over the plexi.
Nahlik did well to muscle Josh Tetlow off the puck and tee up Lascenko, who misfired, but Raiders went 3-2 up soon after as Connolly slipped in Slovakian Nahlik and he beat Mettam with a backhand in close.
Ayliffe could not convert on a similar chance, but Raiders were an inch away from a fourth as Nahlik pinged a wristshot off the crossbar, then Tom Davis forced a pad save from the Bees goalie.
The visitors called a timeout with 5.43 left on the clock, but they could not make much of an impact as Raiders worked hard to keep them at arms length and saw Huska thud a slapshot into the pads of Mettam, who left the ice with 2.35 left for an extra skater.
The move backfired as Raiders successfully defended a face-off in their own zone, then saw Sylvester fire up ice from long range into the empty net.
And Bees lost Bendik to a 10-minute misconduct penalty in the aftermath, followed by Best on a similar call a few seconds later.
Pitchley and Barry picked up slashing and interference minors in the closing stages to leave Raiders defending a 5-on-3, but they held on comfortably.
It had been 28 years since these two clubs had met in the post-season in Romford, when the Raiders claimed a promotion-clinching 12-9 win in a Rom Valley Way thriller.
And lots of old faces were back in the stands to see the current crop of Raiders produce a fine success over the Bees of their own.
Hopefully they will be back next Saturday when Raiders host the Bison in the first leg of their next tie.
Raiders: Jake Sylvester 2; Matt Turner 1; Marek Nahlik* 1; John Connolly 0+2; Callum Wells 0+1; Olegs Lascenko 0+1.
Bees: James Galazzi 1; Josh Martin 1; Callum Best 0+1; Danny Ingoldsby 0+1; Scott Spearing 0+1; Jan Bendik* 0+1.
Penalty minutes; Raiders 10 Bees 38.
Shots on goal: Michael Gray (L, 59.55) 4-13-12=29-2 Alex Mettam (B, 59.35) 16-14-12=42-3; Empty net (0.25) 1-1.